SHAME, and

 Deposition from the Cross
 Giotto, 1320


THE  English word sorrow can be employed to translate a variety of words used in the New Testament and the Christian mystical tradition.  Three of the most important Greek terms with which we will be concerned are:

1) lupē /λύπη: grief, distress, pain of body or mind

2) aischunē /αἰσχύνη: shame done to one, disgrace, dishonour; a sense of shame.

3) penthos /πένθος:  grief, sorrow, sadness, mourning




THE term Evagrius uses for the  fourth logismos (tempting-thought)  is lupē /λύπη. Cassian renders this tristitia, which is usually translated into English as sadness. Some translators go so far as to render lupē and tristitia as depression. Both of these translations are misleading however; since they suggest that the state produced by this logismos happens without the cooperation - or even despite the exercise - of free will. Since modern psychologists would vigorously oppose any suggestion that sorrow and depression are moral “faults” that could be avoided through an act of will, these translations run the risk of portraying the early Christian spiritual tradition as false and cruel.

FOR this reason I  have translated tristitia in Cassian as gloominess, an (admittedly-inelegant) English term that has the sole advantage of implying cooperation of the will with the mental state produced.  Gloominess suggests (as Evagrius and Cassian believed) that the victim of this logismos at some level consents to, and perhaps even even welcomes and seeks to maintain a state of negativity and cynicism. This false and damaging sorrow may take the form of inappropriate shame (aischunē /αἰσχύνη); or it may be directed aggressively outwards. It may inspire destructive gossiping or detraction, which the New Testament calls gongysmos/ γογγυσμός, and which St. Benedict describes both as murmuring/murmuratio, and zelus amaritudinis malus, the “evil zeal of bitterness” (RB 72).

IN one sense the opposite of this logismos is the experience of joy; but equally important is the conviction shared by Evagrius and Cassian that there is a good use “according to nature” of this seemingly-negative energy.  This proper use of  lupē /tristitia could be termed “holy sorrow” (i,e, sorrow for sins), and it is often associated with the “gift of tears” during prayer. In the later Greek Christian tradition the word penthos /πένθος is used to describe the holy “mourning” that comes to be regarded an an indispensible feature of the hesychastic (Jesus-Prayer) tradition


SOURCES: 1Kittel, The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (Eerdmans, 2000, c1964).   2 ) H.G.Liddell, R. Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. rev. H.S.Jones & R.McKenzie, (Oxford, 1940).

§ 2. GLOOMINESS / GRIEF - lupē /λύπη

IN the Greek Classical tradition:  Physically lupē /λύπη can denote any pain, though especially that caused by hunger or thirst, by heat or cold (Plat.Phileb., 310 f; Phaed., 85a), or by sickness (Soph.Ai., 338). [...]. Spiritually lupē /λύπη is sorrow, pain or anxiety at misfortune or death, or anger at annoyances or hurts, esp. insults and outrages. As in Plat.Phileb., 47e (cf. 48b; 50b) Philosophically, lupē /λύπη is the opposite of hedone, pleasure.

IN the OLD TESTAMENT [i.e. in the Septuagint Greek version] lupē /λύπη is not the accepted or even the preferred rendering of any one Hebrew word. It is used for many words indicating pain, sorrow, annoyance.

IN the NEW TESTAMENT  lupē /λύπηis used generally for sorrow, pain (2 C. 7:10; Hb. 12:11; 1 Pt. 2:19), esp. sorrow of soul: e.g., the sorrow of the disciples in Gethsemane in Lk. 22:45; their sorrow at the parting of Jesus in Jn. 16:6,20,22; Paul’s sadness at the unbelief of the Jews in Rom. 9:2; [...]  The question [whether lupē /λύπη is evil or good in itself] is not raised in the New Testament. As in the Old Testament, sorrow is obviously something which ought not to be. The desire to be spared it, or relieved from it, is justifiable.


§ 3. SHAME - Aischunē /αἰσχύνη

IN classical Greek the principal meaning is shame or dishonor.

IN the OLD TESTAMENT [i.e. in the Septuagint Greek version]  the verb  aischunō /αἰσχύνω is often used in the sense of “to shame” or “to bring to shame” Most frequently God is the subject, and the shame to which He brings is His judgment (Ps. 43:9, 118:31, 116).

IN the NEW TESTAMENT aischunē /αἰσχύνη is used chiefly in the same sense as in the Old Testament: “to bring to shame” or “to shame”[...] In 1: John 2:28 aischunē /αἰσχύνη means a shamed silence , the silence of one who has no defense for shameful actions: this is specifically contrasteds with the confidence of access and freedom of speech with God (parrēsia/παρρησία ) that is enjoyed by the redeemed.

[the following is not found literally in Kittel, but is an interpretation of suggestions noted there:]

However the cross of Christ changes the meaning of shame.  The cross is a shameful symbol (Heb 12:2); yet  it becomes the source of life for Christians; and despite its shame it is a symbol in which Paul glories (Gal. 6:14).


§ 4. MOURNING - Penthos /πένθος
[and WEEPING - Klauthmos /κλαυθμός]

IN the OLD TESTAMENT penthos /πένθος is especially mourning for the dead expressed in tears and lamentation; but it is also the sorrow and grief that accompanies prophesied disaster.

IN the NEW TESTAMENT penthos /πένθος is also mourning with tears; but it is a grief that leads to a determination to act or change (2 Cor .12:21; Rev. 18). Jesus blesses those who weep [klaiontes /κλαίοντες ] and mourn.  Weeping [signifies the opposite of arrogant self-confidence in the face of God: it] expresses the assurance of being, not autonomous, but for good or ill dependent on God, so that all things must, yet also can, be awaited from Him. This kind of weeping arises when man recognises his total inadequacy in face of God and when he sees that he cannot evade this, whether it be in respect of his life and its duration, of his human powers and capacities, or of his service of God, including the moral life. Thus in weeping God is acknowledged as God and His sway is fundamentally accepted (cf. Lk. 7:29 with 17:15; 18:11). This secures to  the klaiontes /κλαίοντες [those who weep] God’s grace and fellowship in the future when God will manifest Himself as such.






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